In a fast-paced world that is always changing, rituals and traditions are the threads that bind cultures and communities together. Passed from person to person and generation to generation, they can stick around for thousands of years and are a feature of all known societies. And when it comes to food traditions, there is a whole world of fascinating traditions waiting to be discovered. From centuries-old kaiseki dinners in Japan to honey-collecting practices using honeyguide birds in Tanzania, experiencing another culture’s culinary customs gives you a deeper understanding of a place and its people and is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the world. Here are a few of our food traditions around the world…
Using ultra-seasonal ingredients and incorporating up to 11 courses, kaiseki dinners are a staple of every stay in a charming ryokan (traditional inn) in Japan. Kaiseki meals centre around small but perfectly presented dishes which are expertly prepared using traditional cooking techniques and served in your tatami matting floored bedroom. As you work your way through the many courses, you usually begin with an appetiser accompanied by sake and end with a pudding and matcha tea ceremony. The idea is to savour the food with all your senses, from the complex and often surprising flavour combinations to the meticulous presentation of the dishes and the super fresh seasonal ingredients. But as so often in Japan, kaiseki dinners are about more than just the food. Hospitality – or omotenashi – is at the heart of this centuries-old dining tradition, which began as a simple meal served at tea ceremonies. While the dinners have become ever more elaborate over time – first gaining popularity in aristocratic circles and now reserved only for special occasions – the core philosophy behind the tradition of simplicity, humbleness and expertise remains the same.
Hadzabe Tribe Honey Gathering
Southern Serengeti, Tanzania
Many of us are disconnected from the natural world in our day to day lives, but not the Hadzabe tribe. One of the last true hunter-gatherer tribes in Tanzania’s southern Serengeti, the Hadzabe have a deep connection with their surroundings and have held onto many of their ancient traditions including foraging for food, hunting with bows and arrows, and using plant roots to dye their clothes. On a strictly controlled visit, accompanied by a translator, learn about their way of life (and how it is, inevitably, changing) and accompany them on outings into the surrounding bush. The most magical moment of the visit is observing how the Hadzabe collect honey with the help of honeyguide birds – perhaps one of our favourite food traditions around the world. These unassuming black and white birds, which are roughly the size of robins, are experts at tracking down beehives in the area’s thick-trunked baobab trees. While the bird flies ahead, the Hadzabe follow closely behind, waiting for the moment when the honeyguide pinpoints its payload. Then they swoop in to pacify the swarms with smoke and scoop out the honey (a delicacy that provides them with valuable calories) while the bird eats the bees and wax in a wondrous mutually beneficial relationship.
The Art of the Perfect Pizza
Italy is famous for its pizza, and you’ll struggle to find better than in Naples. Prepared with a basic dough, raw tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and a drizzling of olive oil, Neapolitan pizzas are all about simple and fresh ingredients, and none of the fancy toppings you’d find in your local pizzeria. In Naples, preparing the perfect pizza is more religion than profession - a true art form. Across the city, pizzaioli (pizza makers) compete to craft the finest pizzas, all in the hope of catching the eye of the True Neapolitan Pizza Association, an organisation founded in 1984 to certify pizzerias that practice the proper artisan traditions. Receiving certification is no mean feat: the ingredients must be fresh and all-natural, from the San Marzano tomatoes grown in the fertile volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius to the dough (0 or 00 wheat flour only). The techniques must be perfect - no rolling pins allowed - and the baking time is a strict 60 to 90 seconds in a furnace-hot wood-fired oven. With only a few hundred certified restaurants around Italy and the world, these pizza-making masters enjoy rock-star status and feed a constant stream of hungry diners – we can give you the inside track on the best.
Kava Tea Ceremony
When it comes to ancient food traditions around the world, Fiji is a country brimming with them and one of the most popular is the kava tea ceremony. A ritual in every village you enter, kava tea ceremonies have existed for thousands of years and are used to welcome visitors, mark milestone moments and resolve disputes. The ceremony begins with the production of the kava which involves pounding a plant root to a pulp, placing it in a cloth sack and mixing it with water, resulting in an earthy brew. While seated on the floor, your host will then serve the cloudy drink in coconut shells, with the option of high tide (full cup) or low tide (half cup). When presented with the kava, it is traditional to clap once and yell Bula! (meaning "hello"), drink the tea in a single gulp, clap three more times and then end with the word Maca (meaning “it’s drained”). With a bitter taste, this non-alcoholic drink (the country’s national beverage) is an acquired taste, but it is known to induce a wonderful sense of calm and serenity. Just don’t be surprised if it leaves your lips feeling a little numb and fuzzy!
The Milking Ritual
Age-old traditions are still very much a part of daily life in time warp Transylvania, and one of the most charming is the evening milking of the village cows. In most rural villages, families will often own at least one cow. In the morning, they are let out of their stables and herded along the cobblestone streets of the town by the village cowherds until they reach the meadows. Here, they spend the day grazing while the herders and their huge dogs keep watch for the wolves and bears that still roam the surrounding forests. Before dusk, find a spot on the cobbled main street and listen, local beer in hand, as the sound of cowbells grows ever louder. Soon the cows appear and as they clip-clop along the cobbles, the stable doors are flung open on either side of the street. The cows know their own homes and peel off obediently to make their own way back in. There, in the straw-strewn stable, the ageing family matriarch is ready and waiting, sitting on a milking stool to carry out a chore which has been repeated every evening for centuries.